News

Ciampi videos reveal profanity-laced exchange

Taser and f-word zaps occur during police confrontation with Tony Ciampi

Videos from Palo Alto police vehicles and Taser cameras released Tuesday (Jan. 18) revealed an expletive-laced exchange between a man and police officers, who yanked him from his vehicle and used Tasers on him in March 2008.

Joseph "Tony" Ciampi was sleeping in his van on a residential Palo Alto street on March 15, 2008, when three officers approached the van in response to a complaint from a resident who said the man made his family uncomfortable.

The video shows an angry profanity-filled exchange between Ciampi and one of the officers, Kelly Burger, prior to officers firing their Tasers at him. Ciampi was arrested for assaulting police, but Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thang Nguyen Barrett dismissed the charges in December 2008, after finding that police had illegally lured Ciampi out of his van.

Settlement negotiations are underway between the city and Ciampi, who claims the videos have been doctored to delete about 17 seconds that would show how aggressive officers were.

Video and audio from two patrol-car cameras and from Taser-gun cameras show Burger's and Ciampi's mounting anger as Burger demanded he exit his van. The video footage was shown to reporters Jan. 18 in response to a newspaper's Public Records Act request.

Video shows Officer Manuel Temores and Sgt. April Wagner attempting to get Ciampi to leave his van. No audio of the initial exchange was available because the camera on Temores' patrol car was recording only video, not sound, according to Interim City Attorney Donald Larkin.

When Burger arrived he parked next to Ciampi's van so the video did not show the van. But the camera picked up audio as police got Ciampi to open the van's side door. Ciampi is heard cussing at the officers and demanding to know why he was being disturbed. The video and audio were later combined by the Santa Clara County Crime Lab.

Burger asked Ciampi if he is a heroin addict. Cimpi said he is not. He appeared insulted that police would make that accusation.

One officer replied they had received a call about him.

"So what?" Ciampi shouted. He said he had not done anything wrong and it was not illegal for him to be living in his van on the street.

Police countered that there is a Municipal Code section against living or sleeping in a vehicle. Ciampi demanded they name the ordinance.

The city attorney's office has previously said there is no such ordinance -- only that a vehicle cannot remain in one place for more than 72 hours. City officials are currently looking into enacting a no-vehicle-dwelling ordinance.

"Hey, watch your f---ing mouth," Burger shouted back at Ciampi in response to Ciampi's use of the f-word.

Video from Taser cameras showed the exchanges close up. Tasers pointed spots of light at Ciampi's chest and groin as he sat in his underwear facing police, his legs hanging out of the vehicle.

"Let me see your f---ing hands or I'm going to tase you," Burger shouted.

Ciampi raised his hands, his left palm was toward the officers and his right held a cell phone to his ear. He was calling his attorney, he said.

"Get out of the f---ing car," Burger shouted.

Ciampi at one point began to stand up, but reached down to pick up a bottle of what appeared to be water next to his feet. Burger then grabbed him and yanked him from the vehicle.

A Taser video showed Ciampi's back to officers when a scuffle ensued as they pushed him against a vine-covered fence to handcuff him. Burger was close to Ciampi with his Taser raised. Ciampi turned slightly left toward Burger when Burger fired his Taser. Ciampi turned further and Tasers were fired twice more as Ciampi shouts in alarm.

The video from Temores' vehicle shows Ciampi against the fence and Burger's Taser is very near his body. Ciampi appears to turn and slap Burger. The Taser is heard firing and Ciampi charged away from the fence, slapping frantically toward Burger. At one point, the two tussle.

Ciampi claimed in a federal civil case that police violated his civil rights and that they doctored the video, removing more than 17 seconds to make it seem as though he initiated the assault. The case will soon enter mediation.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 19, 2011 at 11:41 am

This is a truly amazing story. Police can really fly off the handle in some cases like this. They wanted to get this guy, thinking they were surely doing the right thing to remove a person living in their car, but they lied to the man, threatening him, and were power tripping ... and their stupid actions are not costing the city big money. It's amazing this guy did not end up shot dead as seems to be happening around this area a lot lately in the news.

The problem of homelessness and people sleeping in their cars should be addresses in a more rational way, allowing police officers to work themselves up into righteous persecution mode where they think nothing of violating someone's rights and harming them does not help anyone.

Do we know if this police officer is still working in Palo Alto?


Like this comment
Posted by What else is new?
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm

This is no news, it happens everywhere. Police abuse their powers every day. It has happened to me more than three times, luckily I have only been abused verbally by members of the police in different cities of California, but I have not been able to bring them to court, because every time, I have told the judge that I will fight the cases (two) police officer all of a sudden realized that what they did was not right and retire the charges. It is depressing.


Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I hate these "undisclosed settlements". I'd like to know how much we pay annually to settle police complaints, bicycle accidents, tripping, getting rid of unwanted city employees, etc, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I agree this is all to common - Tasers are supposed to be an alternative to lethal force. In this case (and to many others) they are being used to get compliance not to protect an officer from danger. There is no evidence these officers were in danger at all.

But the article doesn't tell me what I'd really like to know - that is what happened to the officers involved? Are they still on the force? Still carrying tasers? Has any sort of guidance been given to them or the PAPD as a whole on when lethal force is appropriate?


Like this comment
Posted by Not Easy!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:41 pm

It can't be easy being a police officer and those who complain about them should try it someday. They take so much crap all the time, while everyone is grateful to them when they need them. Policemen are not super humans yet people expect them to be. They are courteous but when they are pushed to the limit, they are only humans.

There are way too many outspoken Palo Altans hide behind their computers and bash our police force when they have absolutely no idea how difficult the job is. Imagine going to work each day and not knowing if you'll be alive when your shift is over. Imagine asking someone to do something and they don't, much like a rebellious teenager. And how long do parents keep their patience with their teenagers? I have the utmost respect for our Palo Alto policemen and so should our loud-mouthed community.

I do not want people sleeping in cars around town. The City Council should work on an ordinance to prohibit it. Hopefully, Ciampi is doing something worthwhile with his life now that he has a settlement which would pay for his homelessness. But I wouldn't hold my breath.


Like this comment
Posted by RaoulDuke
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm

A six figure settlement? Well, now he can afford some type of home.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2011 at 1:09 pm

The cops totally overreacted, espec if Ciampi knew his rights & wasn't breaking the law by sleeping in his vehicle. While I wouldn't want him in front of my house & it makes sense that the resident called the police, the police blew it. If the cops had been more patient & skilled, he City might not be losing money in a settlement. It's sad, because for what residents pay to live in PA, they should get police dept. skilled enough to not escalate these types of situations. What a waste of time, money & resources.


Like this comment
Posted by wg
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 19, 2011 at 1:55 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by howzat pa
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jan 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by dats all folk
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by TZ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm

One of the problems this case shows is the difference between where the average young PA Police Officer is coming from and what he or she must deal with in the real world.

Most PA Police Officers are university educated, many from middle class backgrounds. Then they have to face the reality of street life which they are unfamiliar with. There adrenaline level is high as they are always on the alert.

Perhaps this psychological change needs to be taken into account while at the Police Academy, and officer's retrained to deal with street people in a more rational way.


Like this comment
Posted by brown
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 19, 2011 at 2:21 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:14 am

bru is a registered user.

> I hate these "undisclosed settlements". I'd like to know how much we pay annually

Do I ever agree with that ... it ought to be illegal, it breaks the feedback system that citizens need to know what is going on and react appropriately to change.

i just cannot believe that we have so many tricks to remove the truth from citizens ... no wonder we are in such bad shape these days.


Like this comment
Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jan 21, 2011 at 11:38 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

The following comments were moved from a duplicate thread:

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:43 am

> Police countered that there is a municipal code section against

> living or sleeping in a vehicle. Ciampi demanded they name the

> ordinance.

It would seem that the police officers involved lied to this man. Police are supposed to be able to lie to suspects in order to secure confessions (or some such). How often do they lie just to resolve the situation in which they are currently involved? At any rate, their lie didn't fly with the judge.

> The city attorney's office has previously said there is no such

> ordinance -- only that a vehicle cannot remain in one place for

> more than 72 hours.

And to whom did the City Attorney make this statement? If its true, shouldn't the police have heard it? And shouldn't they be expected to believe it?

> City officials are currently looking into enacting a no-vehicle-

> dwelling ordinance.

This seems like something all of the residents would like. It would solve a lot of problems.

The city has found room for a skate boarding facility .. should it find a bit of an acre somewhere, and offer 3-5 day temporary "camping" permits for people like this one?

This is one of those incidents where it might have been better to do nothing, and maybe wait until the morning when the City Attorney's Office could be approached for guidance. Or maybe it might pay to have an "on call" City Attorney, who can provide assistance to the police in the middle of the night.

This guy wasn't doing anything wrong at that time. Dealing with the problem later would probably have turned out to be better than this. The Daily Post claims that Larkin (the City Attorney, pro tem) claims that the victim here is asking for a settlement in the $1M to $14M range. Whatever the actual settlement turns out to be, it will be too much to pay because the police have bigger egos than intellects.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Posted by JustMe, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:53 am

Charles Dickens wrote "The law, in its equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges." I have a problem with ordinances against sleeping in your vehicle as I see them as legislating people who have no other place to sleep out of existance. I also confess that I am not in favor of having multiple holess people, with whatever baggage that made them homeless, sleeping outside my home in their vehicles. I don't know what a proper solution would be, but I am very uncomfortable with making people's existance illegal. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Posted by good cop, bad cop, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jan 19, 2011 at 11:29 am

I usually have a lot of respect for PAPD, but this is just plain wrong. The victim was doing nothing wrong and he called the officers out by asking what ordinance did he violate. The officers continued to harass and torture him anyway. I hope they are no longer on the force.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Posted by Anon., a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jan 19, 2011 at 11:42 am

This is a truly amazing story. Police can really fly off the handle in some cases like this. They wanted to get this guy, thinking they were surely doing the right thing to remove a person living in their car, but they lied to the man, threatening him, and were power tripping ... and their stupid actions are not costing the city big money. It's amazing this guy did not end up shot dead as seems to be happening around this area a lot lately in the news.

The problem of homelessness and people sleeping in their cars should be addresses in a more rational way, allowing police officers to work themselves up into righteous persecution mode where they think nothing of violating someone's rights and harming them does not help anyone.

Do we know if this police officer is still working in Palo Alto?

------------------------------------------------------------------

Posted by Anon., a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jan 19, 2011 at 11:45 am

Correct me if I'm wrong but the police cannot be allowed to lie about the existence of laws such as the existence of an ordinance against sleeping in your car? I find that really amazing. Police seem to think they can lie, and when challenged and found lacking, they then feel defensive, vindictive and at least some of them will take it out on the suspect - whether it is lawful or not ... and then the whole city has to pay for it.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Posted by good cop, bad cop, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Jan 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm

This reminds me of that case when Palo Alto cops beat up a black man who was minding his own business, sitting in his parked car. I hope those cops aren't working for the city now, either. Cops need to enforce the real law, not make up their own laws.


Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Midtown Guy is a registered user.

People who live in Palo Alto don't expect their police to be abusive or treat the people they pull over with physical threat. That doesn't mean it couldn't happen. Palo Altans need to be less disingenuous, and question whether Mr. Ciampi deserves their support in his effort to hold the police accountable, even if he lives in a style they would not agree with. No, Palo Alto police are not the Stasi, or like Prime Minister Putin's "security" forces that arrest hundreds of peaceable protesters. But this could be a difference of degree rather than kind. It is well known that police officers live by a code that says an officer's duty is to cover for his buddies. Mr. Ciampi has been likened to a thorn in the side of the city attorney and police. But ask yourself, if you were sitting alone in your vehicle on a city street some night, and two police cars surrounded you, making demands and cursing you to exit your vehicle, and drawing their tasers to intimidate you, how would you react (besides soiling yourself)?? No one will ever know the complete story here, but on its face, Mr. Ciampi was doing nothing wrong, and he has struggled for two years to get someone to investigate, even
tutoring himself on the law and appeals, representing himself when no attorney would. Where are your sympathies? You can see where mine are. I fear a police state as much as I fear violence from criminals. The police should, but do not always, act reasonably.
Without independent oversight, police become unchecked in their procedures. That is why, despite its small size as a city, Palo Alto needs to create a citizens oversight committee to review questionable police actions. Otherwise, the police will protect their own.


Like this comment
Posted by MidTown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2011 at 6:22 pm

MidTown Guy is a registered user.

If the criminal case pursued by Mr. Ciampi has been dismissed, and this has been entered as a civil case, then one would expect the claimant to declare a material loss--for example, long term health effects from being tasered. Since Mr.Ciampi is not claiming that, to my knowledge, what is the point of trying this as a civil case?

If he proved the police doctored the tape, (which seems a criminal matter) how does that become a civil issue for which the city must pay him damages, when it seems it should be remanded back for criminal prosecution against the city.

Can you argue the specificity of a certain dollar damage just because the police lied? I don't see how, but maybe someone else can help me understand. And why, if the City was not charged in the criminal case, does the city want to pay anything?


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